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Bree Boyce is jubilant upon being crowned Miss South Carolina on July 2. Her pageant platform is “Eating Healthy and Fighting Obesity.”
By
TODAY contributor
updated 7/12/2011 10:15:44 AM ET 2011-07-12T14:15:44

Courtesy of Bree Boyce
Boyce lost 110 lbs. over three years before winning the Miss South Carolina pageant.

With her beaming smile and flawless figure, Bree Boyce looks every bit the pageant winner. But the path she took to get there was anything but ordinary.

Before being crowned Miss South Carolina July 2, the 22-year-old lost 110 pounds — nearly half her body weight — over three years.

"I'm not on any kind of crazy diet; I'm just living a healthy lifestyle, and that's what I try to promote," Boyce told TODAY.com.

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The aspiring singer from Florence, S.C., lost her weight the old-fashioned way — and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Appropriately, her pageant platform is "Eating Healthy and Fighting Obesity."

Boyce will take her platform national when she competes for Miss America in January. Until then, she'll be traveling around the country encouraging others to get healthy by eating well, exercising, and believing in themselves.

“That’s really what I want to focus on,” she told NBC News in an report that aired on TODAY Tuesday. “It’s not about a number on the scale or the size [of] your pants; it’s about being a ‘size healthy’ and loving yourself and having that self-worth.”

An overshadowed child
Self-worth is something Boyce struggled with for most of her life. The youngest of four, she says she always felt overshadowed by her siblings — two brothers and a sister, Tiffany. That feeling intensified when Tiffany, six years her senior, started competing in beauty contests.

"I loved going to the pageants and seeing how beautiful she was and glamorous she looked, but I also felt like I was kind of being dragged everywhere," Boyce told TODAY.com. "It wasn't that my family wasn't loving and supportive, because they definitely were. But emotionally, I just always felt like I was in the background."

Video: Beauty queen struts her stuff, 100 lbs lighter (on this page)

To cope with her emotions, she turned to junk food, often sneaking around so that her family wouldn't find out.

“When I got my license, it really got bad,” Boyce said. “I would run to the local fast food joint, get something and eat it in my car.” Or she would eat entire pizzas and then stuff the boxes in the outside trash can before anyone came home.

“It got to the point where it was wearing on me emotionally,” she said, “because I knew that I was unhealthy and that I was lying to my family.”

Courtesy of Bree Boyce
Feeling overshadowed by three older siblings, including one competing in beauty contests, young Bree Boyce often turned to food for comfort.

Wakeup call
The extra weight was also taking a toll on her 5-foot-7 frame. “At the age of 17 I was at my highest, which was 234 pounds,” Boyce told NBC News. She was wearing size 18 jeans. When her knees started hurting, she went to the doctor for some relief.

What she got was a wakeup call: "He grabbed my legs and thighs and told me that it was time to lose weight," she recalled.  He warned that her knees and joints couldn't support her weight, and that she would have more problems in the future if she didn't slim down.

Boyce read up on nutrition and learned to cook, favoring white fish and vegetables. She also got moving, walking around the neighborhood at first, then gradually picked up the pace. Now she exercises 30 to 60 minutes every day — two to three hours if she’s preparing for a pageant.

She credits her sister Tiffany, now 28, with helping her get in shape. “She’s taught me a lot about training and working out. She also reassured me that I could lose the weight naturally and didn't need surgery.”

Despite her confidence, Boyce admits that the swimsuit portion of the competition was intimidating.

Slideshow: Miss America 2011 (on this page)

“When I set foot on the stage, I knew that all eyes were going to be on me because of my platform and because I had lost all that weight.”

So when she found out she won the swimsuit round, she said, it was the proudest moment of her life. And when she was crowned Miss South Carolina, she told TODAY’s Ann Curry Tuesday, “I just thought to myself, ‘I did it. I did it all on my own.’

“I did it for myself, and I'm just so thankful to have this platform and to share my success story with everyone,” Boyce added.

And right there supporting her when she won was her sister Tiffany. “She was at the end of the runway grabbing my hand, saying ‘You did it, you did it!’ ” Boyce told TODAY.com. “You’re going to be the best Miss South Carolina and hopefully the best Miss America ever!’ ”

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Video: Beauty queen struts her stuff, 100 lbs lighter

Photos: Miss America 2011

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  1. Miss America 2011

    For the Miss America pageant's 90th year, 53 contestants competed in dazzling gowns and bathing suits in Las Vegas, Nevada on Jan. 15, 2011. “The View" host Joy Behar, actress Marilu Henner and country singer Mark Wills were among the seven judges.

    Left: Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska waves to the audience after being crowned Miss America 2011 during the Miss America pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Crowning moment

    Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, is crowned Miss America 2011 during the Miss America pageant. Scanlan won a $50,000 scholarship and a yearlong run with the crown at the competition at the Planet Hollywood casino-resort in Las Vegas, giving the Cornhusker State its first-ever win at the pageant.

    "And I never passed up a cookie on my journey here," Scanlan said. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Taken by surprise

    Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan (R), 17, reacts after being announced Miss America 2011 during the Miss America pageant. Miss America 2010 Caressa Cameron (L) prepares to crown her.

    Scanlan plans to study American politics at Patrick Henry College in Virginia after her reign as Miss America. She said she also hoped to attend law school, become a judge and eventually a politician. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Embracing the competition

    Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan, 17, is mobbed by other contestants after being crowned Miss America 2011. Scanlan is youngest winner ever in the pageant's history after a night of being judged for poise, talent, fitness and knowledge.

    During the interview portion of the competition, Scanlan told the audience that when it comes to the website Wikileaks, security should come before public access to government information.

    "When it comes to the security of our nation, we have to focus on security first and then people's right to know, because it's so important that everybody who's in our borders is safe and so we can't let things like that happen, and they must be handled properly," she said. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Puppet master

    Alyse Eady, Miss Arkansas, performs a ventriloquist act to "I Wanna Be a Cowboy Sweetheart" in the talent competition during the Miss America pageant.

    "It's a lot easier to do than it looks," Eady said of ventriloquism in an interview with the Southwest Times Record. "You put your teeth together, but P is a hard letter, and so are B, W and M, because people move their lips on those letters. You have to mix sounds, sometimes, to get those letters and words." (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Strutting it

    Miss Texas, Ashley Melnick, walks on stage during the swimsuit competition during the 2011 Miss America pageant. Melnick introduced herself as being from "the home of Superbowl XLV, where everything's super in my state." (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Struck a chord

    Miss Nebraska Teresa Scanlan, 17, plays "White Water Chopped Sticks" on the piano during the talent portion of the Miss America pageant in the Theatre for the Performing Arts at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Walking the runway

    Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, is filmed as she competes in the swimsuit competition during the 2011 Miss America pageant. Scanlan went on to be crowned the new Miss America. She's the youngest Miss America since the pageant implemented age limits in 1938. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Glowing in a gown

    Miss New York, Claire Buffie, walks on stage during the evening gown competition during the Miss America pageant. Buffie competed with her "Straight for Equality: Let's Talk" platform, championing for gay rights. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The long stretch

    From left: Emoly Wes, Miss Oklahoma, Kayla Martell, Miss Delaware, Djuan Keila Trent, Miss Kentucky and Jalee Fuselier, Miss Hawaii, wait for their turn to perform in the talent competition during the 2011 Miss America pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Holding tight

    The five finalists, from left, Jalee Fuselier, Miss Hawaii, Jacquie Brown, Miss Washington, Teresa Scanlan, Miss Nebraska, Emoly West, Miss Oklahoma and Alyse Eady, MIss Arkansas, stand together during the Miss America pageant, Jan. 15, 2011 in Las Vegas.

    Miss Arkansas Alyse Eady won $25,000 as first runner-up, while Miss Hawaii Jalee Fuselier won $20,000 for third place. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Shaking it up

    From left: Miss Louisiana, Kelsi Crain, Miss Oregon, Stephanie Denise Steers, Miss Ohio, Becky Minger and Miss Kansas, Lauren Werhan, dance during the opening number of the 2011 Miss America pageant. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Heartfelt

    Miss North Carolina, Adrienne Leigh Core, left, waits for the start of the Miss America pageant, on Jan. 15, 2011, in Las Vegas. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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